We’ve all heard of those classic books that inspired timeless films – series like Harry Potter, classics like The Wizard of Oz, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a librarian, I’m always surprised to discover great movies that were based on more obscure books. I like to think I’m pretty well versed when it comes to literature, but I had no idea these movies were actually based on books. My first thought was, “Wait, that was a book first?” when I heard about these titles. Some of them you might have known yourself, some might be a surprise. Take a look at this small list I’ve compiled and consider reading the book counterpart!
Die Hard – Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Nothing Lasts Forever was originally published in 1979 and was re-released in 2012 as an eBook. Retired police chief, Joe Leland, is visiting the high-rise where his daughter works. While waiting for her Christmas party to end, the building is hijacked by a German Autumn terrorist group. Leland is able to sneak out of the building but must work with the Los Angeles police department to retake the building and save his daughter and the other hostages in the building. Roderick Thorp was inspired to write the book (a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective) after watching the film The Towering Inferno and dreaming about a man who is chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. The book was adapted into the move Die Hard and released in 1988. Although the film does not follow the book very closely, some of the book’s dialogue and characters are included in the film, including the main character, Joe Leland whose name was changed to John McClane, famously played by Bruce Willis (although the original choice for the actor was Frank Sinatra).
Michael Crichton released his novel, Jurassic Park, in 1990, followed by a sequel, The Lost World, in 1995. Both books were later adapted into feature films by Steven Spielberg. Crichton wrote the novel as a cautionary tale against genetic testing. The gist of the book is the same as the movie – an amusement park has been created to showcase the genetic reconstruction of prehistoric creatures. The book opens with a series of unexplained animal attacks on a fictional island off the coast of Costa Rica. A paleontologist and his graduate assistant are called in to confirm the identity of the attacking creature, but are distracted by the billionaire creator of the park. What the paleontologists soon learn is that the dinosaurs on the island have been created by damaged DNA – modified with similar DNA from reptiles and amphibians – and what ensues is a wild ride and exploration of the chaos theory. Jurassic Park the movie was released in 1993, and The Lost World was released in 1997. Subsequent films were released that were based on the film series.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – Who Censored Roger Rabbit? By Gary K. Wolf
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of my favorite live action/animated films. It was released in 1988 and is said to be loosely based on the 1981 mystery novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? By Gary K. Wolf. In the book, Roger Rabbit is a comic strip character, who hires Eddie Valiant, a private investigator, to find out why his employers have gone back on their promise to give Roger his own comic strip. When Roger learns more about what’s going on with the company, he is mysteriously murdered. Valiant decides to investigate Roger’s murder, and, in doing so, comes across a strange kettle with a genie inside. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that there are some obvious differences between the book and the film. In the movie, Roger Rabbit has been framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and Eddie Valiant has been hired to help clear his name. Instead of a comic strip character, Roger is a “toon” - a character from a short animated film. The film is billed as a comedy-mystery, and hilarity ensues throughout as Eddie and Roger try to solve the case.
Forrest Gump follows the main character, Forrest, as he recounts the events from his life to a stranger at a bus stop. He is a slow-witted, but big-hearted man who unwittingly influences different historical events throughout his life (such as Elvis Presley’s jerky, gyrating dance moves). The movie came out in 1994 and is based on the 1986 book of the same title by Winston Groom. While there are several similarities between the book and the film, there are some significant differences as well. Gump engages in most of the same activities as in the movie, but the events leading up to them are much different. I also distinctly remember Forrest and Jenny playing in a college band together, which doesn’t happen in the movie. Groom makes use of misspellings to portray Gump’s slow-wits, which can make reading the novel difficult, and the character of Forrest Gump is much more profane than the character in the movie. If you loved the movie, you may not be a fan of the book, but I think it’s worth reading to understand where the inspiration for the Academy-Award winning movie began.
A Christmas Story – In God We Trust, All Other’s Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters by Jean Shepherd
A Christmas Story is a classic American film that was released in 1983. But even with its classic status, I just recently learned that it is based on, not one, but TWO, books. The primary book it’s based on is In God We Trust, All Other’s Pay Cash – a short story compilation, adapted from radio stories, by Jean Shepherd. The book has 31 chapters presented as short stories or vignettes told by the adult Ralph (much like the movie). Ralph has returned to his hometown in the book and is catching up with his friend, Flick, who runs a bar in the town. Four of the stories in the book are used for A Christmas Story. The other book that influences the film is Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters – one short story, “The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds” is used in the movie. The four stories from In God We Trust and the one from Wanda Hickey were compiled and released as a standalone book A Christmas Story in 2003. But that’s not all! Did you know A Christmas Story has a sequel? My Summer Story came out in 1994 (11 years after A Christmas Story!) and is based on other short stories in Jean Shepard’s books. The film takes place the summer after the events of A Christmas Story. Jean Shepherd had the honor of narrating both movies.
The influential novel Psycho by Robert Bloch was published in 1959 and was soon followed by an Alfred Hitchcock adaptation in 1960. The novel’s main character, Norman Bates, runs an isolated motel and is involved in a series of murders. His domineering mother refuses to allow him a life that doesn’t involve her and the motel, so the middle-aged Bates is, understandably, under a lot of mental strain. As the novel progresses, the mental damage Bates has incurred becomes ever more apparent, and in a shocking twist, readers find out what’s really going on in the motel. The novel is considered one of the most influential horror novels of the 20th Century, inspiring both the 1960 film as well as the popular TV series, Bates Motel. A remake of the 1960 film was released in 1998.
If you’re a Psycho fan, you may know that sequels to the original film were made in the ’80s. You may be surprised to learn that Robert Bloch also wrote two sequel novels, in 1982 and 1990, respectively. The sequel films were not based on sequel novels.
Mrs. Doubtfire – Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine
Alias Madame Doubtfire, also known as Madame Doubtfire, was published in 1987 by English author, Anne Fine. The novel centers around one family. After the divorce of Daniel and Miranda Hilliard, Daniel is allowed very little time to spend with his kids. When he hears Miranda is looking for a nanny, he disguises himself as a woman, Madame Doubtfire, and is hired! The two eldest children recognize their father immediately, but the youngest, as well as Miranda, are completely oblivious, at least for a time. The film was released in 1993 and stars Robin Williams as Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire. The film follows the book fairly closely, although none of the children recognize Mrs. Doubtfire at first. The movie won an Academy Award for best makeup, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it’s a wild ride, full of laughter and tears, until the very end.
In the late ‘70s, Cameron Crowe went undercover as a high school senior in an American high school to write Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A Memoir. The book recounts Crowe’s observations of student relationships and interactions in a way that is meant to capture the American high school experience of the time. The book was released in 1981 and was soon followed by the feature film in 1982. The film follows the lives of several teenagers of varying ages (14-18) as they interact and fall in and out of love with each other. Many Hollywood stars got their start in the movie, including Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, and Forest Whitaker. In 2005, it was entered into the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” If you haven’t seen the movie or watched the book, you can order them through the library catalog.
Did you learn something new? We hope you've found a new book to read or movie to watch. And, at the very least, we hope you found this post an entertaining break from the crazy world we're living in!
Co-written by Marina Rose and Ellie Epperson